July 10, 2012

Three Affiliated Tribes of the Fort Berthold Reservation


The Three Affiliated Tribes of the Fort Berthold Reservation are the remnants of the Arikara, Hidatsa, and Mandan tribes. They still maintain separate ceremonies, clan systems, and bands and maintain their separate cultural identities, but share a political alliance as one modern tribe.

Official Tribal Name: Three Affiliated Tribes of the Fort Berthold Reservation

Address: Three Affiliated Tribes,404 Frontage Road,New Town, ND 58763
Phone: 701-627-4781
Fax: 701-627-3503
Email: Contact Forms

Official Website:

Recognition Status: Federally Recognized

Traditional Name / Traditional Meaning:

The Arikara call themselves Sahnish, which means, “the original people from whom all other tribes sprang.” 

The Hidatsa name for themselves is Nuxbaaga, meaning “Original People.”

The Mandan call themselves Rųwą́ʔka·ki , meaning the “People of the First Man.”

  • Rųwą́ʔka·ki, meaning “men, people” before 1837. (transcribed by European Americans as Numakaki, Numangkake)
  • Wį́ʔti Ų́tahąkt , meaning “East Village” (after the village of the same name): late 19th century (transcribed as Metutahanke or Mitutahankish)
  • Rų́ʔeta , meaning “ourselves, our people” (originally the name of a specific division): this is the term the people now use.

The Mandan probably used Rųwą́ʔka·ki to refer to a general tribal entity. Later, this word fell to disuse and instead two division’s names were used, Nuweta or Ruptare (i.e., Mandan Rų́ʔeta). Later, the term Rų́ʔeta was extended to refer to a general tribal entity. The name Mi-ah´ta-nēs recorded by Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden in 1862, reportedly means “people on the river bank”, but this may be a folk etymology.

Various other terms and alternate spellings that occur in the literature including: Mayátana, Mayátani, Mąwádanį, Mąwádąδį, Huatanis, Mandani, Wahtani, Mantannes, Mantons, Mendanne, Mandanne, Mandians, Maw-dân, Meandans, les Mandals, Me-too´-ta-häk, Numakshi, Rųwą́’kši, Wíhwatann, Mevatan, and Mevataneo. Gloria Jahoda in Trail of Tears states that they also call themselves the “Pheasant people.” George Catlin states the Mandans called themselves See-pohs-kah-nu-mah-kah-kee, meaning “people of the pheasants.”

Alternate names / Alternate spellings:

The Hidatsa were known as Minnetaree, or Gros Ventre. The name Minnetaree, spelled in various ways, means “to cross the water.” 

The Arikara were also known as the Pandani, Panimaha, Ree, Ricari, Ricaree, Sanish, Starrahhe.

Fort Berthold Indians, Atsinia, Aricara, Arickara,  Panai

Common Name / Meaning of Common Name:

Arikara tribe – The name Arikara means “horn, referring the tribe’s former custom of wearing the hair with two pieces of bone standing up like horns on each side of their heads.

Hidatsa tribe – The name Hidatsa, said to mean “willows,” was that of a band’s village. When the villages consolidated, the tribe used that name for their people as a whole. 

Mandan tribe – The English name Mandan is derived from the French-Canadian explorer Pierre Gaultier, Sieur de la Verendrye, who heard it as Mantannes from his Assiniboine guides in 1738.

Three Affiliated Tribes

Name in other languages:

 In Indian sign language, the Arikara are designated as “corn eaters.”

The Hidatsa were called Moennitarri by their allies, the Mandan.

The Cree called the Mandans Ouachipouennes, meaning “the Sioux who go underground.”

Region: Great Plains

State(s) Today: North Dakota

Traditional Territory:

It is believed by archeologists that the Mandan moved from the area of southern Minnesota and northern Iowa to the plains in South Dakota about 900 A.D., and slowly migrated north along the Missouri River to North Dakota about 1000 A.D., and the Hidatsa moved from central Minnesota to the eastern part of North Dakota near Devils Lake, and moved to join the Mandan at the Missouri River about 1600 A.D.

The Mandan and Hidatsa believe they were created in this area and have always lived there. According to anthropologists, the Arikara people lived in an area that extended from the Gulf of Mexico, across Kansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota.

The oral history of the Arikara people is taken from sacred bundles and is verified by archeological findings. Ancient objects and ceremonies are part of the oral history of the people. Their history has its roots in eastern Nebraska where numerous village sites were found. Oral history tells of a person called “Chief Above” who brought these villages together in a union for protection against waiting tribes. Archeologists confirm there was a drawing together into large villages on the Elk Horn River in what is now called Omaha, Nebraska, at the end of the prehistoric and beginning of the proto-historic period.

Confederacy: Three Affiliated Tribes


Reservations: Fort Berthold Reservation
Land Area:  
Tribal Headquarters:  
Time Zone:  

Population at Contact:

There may have been as many as 15,000 Mandans before the four smallpox epidemics.  

Registered Population Today:

About 14,900 members, with about 6,000 living on the reservation. Most members of the tribe have varying amounts of Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara ancestry. There are only about 30 full-blood Mandans and 30 fullblood Hidatsa people remaining. There are more Arikara full bloods.

Tribal Enrollment Requirements:

 Individuals must have at least 1/8 Mandan, Hidatsa, or Arikara ancestry (the equivalent of one full-blooded great-grandparent) to become an enrolled member. 

Genealogy Resources:


Charter:  Indian Reorganization Act of 1934
Name of Governing Body:  Tribal Business Council 
Number of Council members:   six Segment Representatives plus executive officers.
Dates of Constitutional amendments: November 3, 2010, July 30, 2013
Number of Executive Officers:  Chairman, Vice-Chairman, Executive Secretary, Treasurer


Elections are held every 4 years and there are no term limits. Candidates for public office must have at least 1/4 Mandan, Hidatsa, or Arikara ancestry (the equivalent of one full-blooded grandparent) to qualify as a candidate for the Tribal Business Council. 

Language Classification:

Language Dialects:

The Arikara are an Indian tribe of the northern group of the Caddoan linguistic family. In language they differ only dialectically from the Pawnee.

The Hidatsa language is related to that of the Crow nation. They have been considered a parent tribe to the modern Crow in Montana. The Hidatsa have sometimes been confused with the Gros Ventre, another tribe which was historically in Montana. In 1936, the Bureau of Indian Affairs compiled the Tribe’s Base Roll listing all Hidatsa as “G.V.”, for Gros Ventre.

Number of fluent Speakers:



Bands, Gens, and Clans

Related Tribes:

Traditional Allies:

Traditional Enemies:

Ceremonies / Dances:

Modern Day Events & Tourism:

Legends / Oral Stories:

Art & Crafts:

The Mandan were known for the crafting of Knife River flint.




The Mandan built earth lodges, some 40 feet (12 m) in diameter, surrounding a central plaza, and made villages of considerable technical skill. Some explorers described the Mandan and their structures as having “European” features. In the 19th century, a few people used such anecdotes to speculate that the Mandan were, in part, descended from lost European settlers who had arrived at North America before 1492, the voyage of Christopher Columbus. One legend associated them with having Welsh ancestry. Historians and anthropologists have found no evidence to support such a theory.


The Mandan were more sedentary than most Plains Tribes and were primarily farmers, although they did hunt buffalo and other game animals for their meat and materials to make clothing, other tools and lodge coverings. They were known for their skill in cultivating maize (a kind of corn), and they grew many different varieties of this crop.

Religion & Spiritual Beliefs:

Burial Customs:

 Arikara – The dead were placed in a sitting posture, wrapped in skins, and buried in mound graves. The property, except such personal belongings as were interred with the body, was distributed among the kindred, the family tracing descent through the mother.

Wedding Customs:

Tribal Colleges:  
Nueta Hidatsa Sahnish College
United Tribes Technical College

Arikara, Hidatsa, & Mandan Chiefs & Famous People:

Catastrophic Events:

1792 smallpox epidemic.

1836 smallpox epidemic.

The 3rd smallpox epidemic of 1837–1838 decimated the Mandan, reducing their numbers from 1,800 to approximately 125 survivors and destroying their society. They banded together with the Hidatsa to survive. When the epedemic was over, it was estimated seven- eighths of the Mandan and one-half of the Arikara and Hidatsa had not survived.

In 1856, the fourth smallpox outbreak occurred in the Star Village at Beaver Creek.


Tribe History:

In 1874, Arikara scouts guided Custer on the Black Hills Expedition, during which his party discovered gold and prompted European-American desire for the lands, which the Lakota considered sacred.

In 1876, a large group of Arikara men accompanied Custer and the 7th Cavalry on the Little Big Horn Expedition. Arikara scouts were in the lead when US Army forces attacked the widespread encampment of thousands of Sioux and Cheyenne warriors and families.

Several scouts drove off Lakota horses, as they had been ordered, and others fought alongside the troopers. Three Arikara men were killed: Little Brave, Bobtail Bull, and Bloody Knife.

During the subsequent confusion, when the scouts were cut off from the troopers, they returned to the base camp as they had been directed. After the battle, in which Custer and some 260 other US troops were killed, the search for scapegoats resulted in some critics mistakenly accusing the scouts of having abandoned the soldiers.

In the News:

Further Reading:


US Tribes T to V
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